Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects

Image of Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects
Release Date: 
May 3, 2011
Algonquin Books
Reviewed by: 

Amy Stewart is right. When it comes to “bugs” we are seriously outnumbered. According to her math, the ratio runs about 200 million to one. While many of these are not visible to the naked eye, reading Wicked Bugs will have you looking over your shoulder or slapping yourself silly while imagining the drama that is in progress all around you.

In Ms. Stewart’s latest offering—a companion piece to the previously published Wicked Plants—she focuses once again on the dark side of the natural world. The term “bugs” is generic for insects, worms, spiders, and other members of that creepy crawly kingdom. She titillates the reader with fascinating tales—all documented—but also issues a caveat that this book is neither field guide nor medical reference; just as she is neither scientist nor doctor. For further reading, an extensive bibliography is included. Etchings and drawings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs augment the images created by the author’s breezy yet highly visual style of writing.

Wicked Bugs is a glimpse into a world that most of us avoid, or spend little time observing. Ms. Stewart organizes many different species into the categories of destructive, painful, deadly or dangerous. The reader will come away with new information about everything from African Bat Bugs to Tarantulas. Within this book are accounts of how potato beetles, scorpions and hornets have influenced the outcome of wars. And did you know, for example, that Napoleon bled more from a chronic scabies infection than from war wounds?

Although most of us consider nightcrawlers to be beneficial additions to the soil, legions of them are capable of nibbling away at the forest understory and denuding it of ferns and wildflowers. Followers of Freud will have a field day reading about the castration complex (with good reason) of the Banana Slug or the Praying Mantid.

Save this for your next trivia competition: Bookworms are not worms. Instead, lice, beetles, moths, and roaches make up the battalion of library marauders, foraging for tasty bits of glue or vellum. Furthermore, forensic entomologists can assist at crime scene investigations by examining the type of insects that inhabit the body.

Read details about these creatures and so many more in Wicked Bugs. They keep you turning pages—and give new meaning to the question, “What’s eating you?” Whether you read this work for information or entertainment, you will come away scratching, and less inclined to probe dark spaces without a flashlight.